The start of a new year brings both excitement and hope to Florida’s farmers. January is the kick-off for Winter’s harvest season and South Florida is known as the world’s winter salad bowl. It came with great enthusiasm when Feeding Florida hosted its very first network-wide farm tour for procurement staff throughout these southern counties to learn all about winter harvest and dairy production first-hand.
Procurement teams on behalf of their respective food banks direct the sourcing and purchasing of agricultural commodities across our state. While previous farm tours usually included only regional food banks staff, this farm tour was strategically created to expand our learning circle to the statewide network. Procurement staff from six network food banks were able to meet with farmer partners to discuss current and ongoing industry challenges they face, learn more about each commodity they produce, and collaborate with one another.
DAY 1- Worthy Family Farms
The first stop of the entire tour was at Worthy Family Farms in West Palm Beach. Owner, Seth Thomas, spent time with the group educating them about carambola, also known as star fruit. Although it is considered a specialty crop for Florida agriculture, star fruit is packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. The farm even works with Chef Melissa, who prepared a three- course dinner highlighting star fruit in each dish, to create recipes that show the versatility of the produce. Through a partnership with their local food bank, Worthy Family Farms can both donate product to those in need and expand their grove knowing there is a home for the produce. (See the day 1 recap on Instagram>)
DAY 2- Duda Farm and US Sugar
Duda Farm Fresh Foods has been a long-time partner to Feeding Florida and most recently our network has established a celery recovery program. Duda Farm Fresh Foods team members, including Sam Jones, Director of Eastern Operations and Capital Administration, and Jeff Goodale, Sr. Director of Sales Strategy and Analysis, toured the group through the packing facilities as well as the radish and celery fields. Watching their team work together to harvest both radishes and celery was an extraordinary experience for our procurement staff. It is one thing to pick up a bag of fresh Duda produce in the grocery store, but to see it fresh out of the field was unforgettable! Witnessing first hand the care, safety precaution implementation, and pride in their farms make it obvious why they are the largest producer of celery in the U.S.
The next stop of the tour took the group from Belle Glade over to Clewiston where U.S. Sugar’s Farm Manager Jarad Plair spent an entire afternoon teaching the group all about sugarcane and the other commodities they produce, like sweet corn and green beans. It was quite the lunch and learn as Plair presented about the economic impacts of Florida sugarcane and agriculture in this area of the state. He also spent time discussing the environmental challenges South Florida agriculture faces constantly and the efforts farmers make to be good stewards of our environment. Did the group get their hands on ready-to-harvest sugarcane? Yes, and it was absolutely sweet!
Even more important to our work, however, we toured the sweet corn crop, one of the two commodities that our food banks could procure from U.S. Sugar to help get more healthy foods on the plates of our neighbors. Again, a true learning experience, as the farmers discussed how this specific crop was planted during drought conditions and has experienced nonstop rain and cloudy weather for the last month of its growing season. It meant a lot to us to observe first-hand the cheerful outlook that remains in farmers despite a low yielding crop. It is challenges like these that farmers face each growing season, which can either provide our food banks with their excess or take away from what they can offer. Either way, our group appreciates when our food banks receive these high-quality fruits and vegetables and we know it didn’t come to us easily. (See our day 2 Instagram recap here>)
DAY 3- Yo Gusto and Milking R Dairy
The tour ended on day three with what we called ‘Dairy Day’. Attendees arrived at Yo Gusto, also known as Hato Potrero Farms, in Clewiston. Owned by Gustavo Perez who started this business more than 20 years ago, he and the Yo Gusto family greeted us with samples of cheese, milk, and yogurt before touring the processing facility. Understanding and seeing firsthand how their fresh yogurt was made using milk from Milking R Dairy was quite an experience. Since Perez is so particular about the healthy and quality of the product, he single sources from Milking R Dairy, and controls the entire production process- from making their own containers, processing all the dairy products on site, filling those containers, and stamping them proudly with the Yo Gusto label.
The group then traveled just north of Lake Okeechobee to source of the milk- Milking R Dairy, owned and operated by Sutton Rucks and his family. From impressive water and land management practices to detailed care of the animals, this farm exemplified why procuring fresh, Florida dairy is so pivotal to our food banks and our local agriculture. Not only did the group get to view their new rotating milking parlor, we were also able to go inside of it and observe how much the dairy cows enjoyed riding on the rotating mechanism. For an extra unforgettable experience, fresh milk and ice cream was provided by the farm’s brand, Sutton Milk, and yes, you CAN taste the difference! (See the Dairy Day recap on Instagram>)
Feeding Florida truly appreciates each of our farmer partners who generously hosted our network team and took the time to both teach and learn from each other.
We often say, “Together, we are all feeding Florida.” This tour proved just how much our farmers and ranchers are critical to this mission. This experience will allow our network’s procurement teams to go back to their respective food banks and implement the knowledge gained to better serve Florida families in need. We cannot feed men, women, and children more nutritious food products without Florida’s farmers and ranchers.
Thanks to Cacee Hilliard, Feeding Florida’s Ag Relations Manager, for contributing to this blog post and organizing the South Florida Farm Tour. Through our Farmers Feeding Florida program, food banks partner with farmers and ranchers across the state to source fresh produce, protein, and dairy to effectively combat hunger. If you are interested in learning more about the program or hosting a tour of your farm, please contact us.